Graves' Disease

Graves' disease is a rare immune disease affecting the thyroid gland (located in the neck region) by one’s own immune system, hence it is classified as an autoimmune disease. Statistics indicate the prevalence of 0.03% in certain population. Women are affected with high frequency of 7:1 compared to men.

Graves' disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism and is characterized by abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter) resulting overproduction of thyroxine hormone than physiologically required. This augmented thyroxine level can greatly increase affected person’s metabolic rate, which may affect the subject in several ways, from mood to physical appearance and is generally not life threatening. Symptoms of Graves' disease may include unusual intolerance to heat, fatigue, weight loss, and protrusion of the eyeballs from their sockets (exophthalmic goiter).

Graves' disease treatment includes radiation, antithyroid drugs to reduce the production of thyroid hormone, and surgical excision of the gland (thyroidectomy). In radiation treatment, radioisotope of iodine, called Iodine-131, accumulates in the cells that make thyroid hormone and radiate the gland with a specific kind of electromagnetic energy to slow thyroid production. Treatment with antithyroid medications are usually prolonged and given for six months to two years in order to be effective. There is not yet a scientifically plausible way to stop immune system from attacking one’s own thyroid gland, but above described treatments for Graves' disease can decrease the production of thyroxine and ease symptoms.

An Irish physician named Robert James Graves and a German Karl Adolph von Basedow independently reported the same symptoms in 1830s of this exophthalmic goiter condition.

Contributor: Duraiswamy Navaneetham PhD.
Temple University School of Medicine
Philadelphia, PA, USA

September 2010